Bartok: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2

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LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Marek Janowski


The Second is undoubtedly the greater of these concertos, and this disc quite rightly starts with it. Its first movement can sometimes be too relaxed, coming as an andante rather than an allegro, and losing rhythmic momentum in the more lyrical moments, of which there are many.

Not here: Marek Janowski sets an ideal tempo, and Arabella Steinbacher’s entry after the pulsing opening chords has bite and depth of tone, coupled with an absolute certainty of the direction of the music. And Janowski ensures that the texture is always clear and well balanced, with harp and celeste glittering in the texture, and the all important wind solos taking their rightful place. 

In the slow movement Steinbacher continues with her winning ways – every note has meaning, and her considerable technique and variety of tone, phrasing and rubato always fits the music like a glove. Her emotional perception of this movement is matched by her quicksilver changes of mood in the finale, capturing the earthy and the playful with panache.


In First Concerto, inspired by Bartók’s unreturned love for the violinist Steffi Geyer, Steinbacher responds to both the relatively uncomplicated romantic outpouring of the first movement, and the portrait of a more capricious Steffi in the second. Janus-like, this concerto looks forwards and backwards in Bartók’s compositional style, and Steinbacher has the measure of both. Martin Cotton